Praying the psalms unselfishly

If the psalms cover all the different emotions I experience in life, chances are good that there’s at least one psalm that expresses what I’m presently feeling. But because there are so many different emotions and corresponding psalms, chances are also good that the particular psalm I read today will not directly connect with what I’m feeling. For example, today’s psalm in my daily psalm reading may be a psalm of lament which does not match my good mood and general optimism at present. Or today’s psalm may be filled with praise even though I may be nearly in tears with frustration.

There are at least two ways to deal with discrepancies between the tone of a particular psalm and how I am presently feeling. One way is to simply skip ahead to another psalm until I find and can pray one that more accurately expresses the state of my heart and mind. The despair in Psalm 22 is followed by the hope of Psalm 23. At least one line in one of those two psalms ought to resonate with me!

But a way to stick with a psalm that doesn’t happen to match my present mood is to consider how it does perfectly match the feelings of othersHolding hands graphic found via Google near or far in the faith community. I may not feel like lamenting at the moment, but I can still express the lament in solidarity with sisters and brothers in Christ who are presently experiencing pain. Or if today’s psalm in my daily psalm reading is one filled with praise despite me being in foul mood, I can still read and pray it thinking of others who are having a great day, learning to thank God (and not complain to him!) for their happy circumstances. A suitable prayer to accompany reading a psalm in this way goes something like this: “God, these words do not reflect my present experience or state of mind, but there are others in the world for whom these words fit perfectly. I lift them up before you and pray these words in solidarity with them knowing we are united in Christ.”

Moreover, reading and praying a psalm that doesn’t match how I’m presently feeling may help me better identify with someone who is feeling the emotions the psalm portrays. For example, reading a pain-filled psalm may help me better understand and relate with someone who is presently filled with anguish. When I skip over such a psalm to find a cheerier portion of Scripture, I deny myself the opportunity to grow in empathy by putting myself in someone else’s shoes.

Instead of finding a psalm I can more easily relate to, I hear the Holy Spirit inviting me to read each psalm unselfishly, praying for and identifying with those for whom the words may hit closer to home. The Spirit may even surprise me from time to time by showing me how the words are more applicable to me than I originally presumed.

This post is inspired in part by Martin Tel’s comments
in the webinar he led last month for CRC Worship Ministries
titled “Creative Use of the Psalms in Worship.”

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Contagious courage

While we were in British Columbia this summer, my 10-year-old son and I hiked the Abby Grind. The trail begins a mile from my parents’ house at the base of Sumas Mountain and climbs 1,200 feet in just over a mile, making for some good exercise. It didn’t take long before we started huffing! Near the three-quarter mark, we were both tempted to just turn around, but then we knew we’d miss out on theAbby Grind lookout spectacular view at the lookout. So we encouraged each other on and both made it to the top.

On the one hand, we both needed to hike the trail ourselves. We propelled ourselves onward with our own legs, muscles, and willpower. But on the other hand, we needed each other’s encouragement to keep going, to cheer each other on. We were also encouraged by other hikers coming down the trail reminding us that the effort was worth it.

With satisfied smiles, we scrambled up around the last corner and saw the Fraser Valley spread out below us and Washington State beyond. If it had been a bit clearer, we might even have seen the ocean. A little later as we descended back down the trail, we encouraged other hikers making their way up.

Life sometimes feels like a serious hike in which we often deal with aches and pain. Sometimes we feel alone with our doubts and fears and secret desire to drop out. One of the reasons I think God places us in a Christian community is so that we can cheer one another on. Author Lewis Smedes once observed that “nobody else can have courage for us. But behind individual acts of courage there is usually a community. Courage is contagious. It spreads when we get close to each other.”

I see a church community as a place to experience the contagiousness of courage. Surrounded by fellow hikers on the path, we hear and see people cheering us on while we in turn do the same for others. Sometimes I’m the one reminding you that the effort of being a loyal spouse, a dependable parent, or a hard worker is worth it; sometimes you’re the one encouraging me.

This goes for faith as well: Sometimes I encourage you in your walk with Jesus and sometimes it’s me who needs your encouragement. Are you part of a community where you encourage others and other encourage you? Consider joining a church gathering this Sunday.

Yes, it’s possible that I could’ve conquered the Abby Grind on my own. But hiking it together with someone was not only more fun but also boosted the courage in both of us.

I suspect there’s someone with whom you’re hiking through life who could use a boost from you today.

I wrote this for the Rock Valley Bee a couple weeks ago
but kept forgetting to post it here!

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Isolation stinks

One of the proverbs of Solomon goes like this:

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisors they succeed.

I wrote in the margin of my Bible how this is an example of the blessing The Me I Want To Beof being in community with others.  “Two heads are better than one” is nearly a quote from the Bible!

Reading this proverb clicked with a couple sections of a book I just finished reading – The Me I Want To Be by John Ortberg

…When I am with people who know me deeply and accept me fully, their acceptance touches my brokenness as a doctor touches the injured place on a patient’s body.  Their very touch begins to heal, and through the mystery of the fellowship of acceptance, God’s Spirit flows.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
(p. 198)

In a chapter about dealing with temptations, Ortberg writes…

Nothing makes temptation more powerful than isolation…  The single most common way out [of a tempting situation] involves talking about our temptations with another person. (p. 138)

And near the end of the book, he sums up with…

…Facing challenges in community gives life
and isolation destroys it.
(p. 251)

communityI thank God for a wife and for friends who surround me, who bring wholeness to my life, who encourage me and hold me accountable, who help me experience life as God desires for me.

Treating depression

My family doctor suggests that up to 80% of his appointments could be handled by everyday, non-medically-trained people.  Dr. Marlowe Haskins perceives that many of his patients have few or even no friends, so they’ll make appointments to see him every few weeks.  I wonder whether these people are hypochondriacs or actually admit up front that they come simply for a few minutes of conversation and human interaction.

Dr. Haskins gave this statistic yesterday at Telkwa CRC.  I had spoken about depression, using Psalm 42 as a launching point.  Afterwards, I invited him to speak from his Christian perspective and professional experience.  Dr. Haskins did not at all dismiss the importance of diagnosing and treating depression, but he made it clear that much healing from feeling blue and even outright despair can be found within a loving community.

If we opened our eyes wider on Sunday mornings, we would likely notice more people in the pews around us who are lonely and feeling down.  We can affirm them, remind them that they mean a lot to us, offer help as we are able, and, most importantly, spend time together.  On the other hand, when we are feeling blue, maybe we need to ask ourselves why we don’t reach out to someone in our church community.  God does not expect us to wear a plastic happy face when we enter a church sanctuary and, I pray, many of our sisters and brothers in Christ don’t expect us to all the time, either.

As I said in yesterday’s message, depression is treatable…  And you and I are part of that treatment!  You and I can remind people who suffer from it that we accept them and that God loves them.  We do this with our words and in our actions Lonely Bench (found via Google search)and with our time as well as our prayers.  May you and may I continue following the lead of the Holy Spirit, offering the refreshing living water of Jesus to those who are thirsting for it.

BLESS the neighbours

I’d love for our church to make a bigger impact in our neighbourhood.  I think we’re already making a difference, but I keep on dreaming of ways we can make Don't Invite Them to Church, by Karen Wilkeven more of a difference.

Karen Wilk’s new book Don’t Invite Them to Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church has been equipping me to reach out to my Telkwa neighbourhood.  I appreciate her emphasis on prayer.  She describes how on multiple occasions praying resulted in making meaningful connections with neighbours, and this encourages me to pray!

And in case I’m not sure what or how to pray for my neighbours, Karen Wilk has a suggestion for that, too.  After identifying five households in my neighbourhood to pray for every day, she suggests that I ask God to B-L-E-S-S them:

Pray for their…
Body (health, strength, protection)
Labour (work, income, security, school)
Emotional state (joy, peace, hope, contentment,
fulfillment, self-esteem)
Social life (relationships, love, marriage, family, friends)
Spiritual needs (grace, openness, hunger for God, faith)

She also offers this prayer I can use as a template for mine:

Lord, be Lord of this neighbourhood.  Show Yourself in ways that are far greater than we could ever ask or imagine.  Help us to see You in everyone we meet and experience You in our midst, so that at the name of  Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess in our neighbourhood, that You, Jesus, are Lord – the glory of God the Father.  Amen.
—————————————————————————— (page 33)

What will happen if I pray this way every day?  What will happen if you join me?

A prayer to the God of the Way

We offered this prayer yesterday evening at St. James Anglican and Smithers United Churches’ combined Ash Wednesday service.  I found it meaningful in part because it incorporates words that remind us of how we live our faith “on the way.”  I also appreciate how it takes seriously both our sin as well as our need to be in community.

God of the Way,
You are the road we travel,
     and the sign we follow;
You are bread for the journey,
     and the wine of our arrival.
Guide us as we follow in Your way
     holding on to each other,
     reaching out to Your beloved world.
And when we stray, seek us out and find us,
     set our feet on the path again,
     and lead us safely home.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray.  Amen.